Even a bad hair day—a really bad hair day—doesn’t get Julie Kamps down nowadays. “Last Saturday, I did a bad job coloring my own hair,” says the 49-year-old from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, laughing. “My husband said, ‘You don’t seem so upset,’ and I told him, ‘A year and a half ago, I didn’t have hair!’ ”
It’s been just over two years since Julie, then 49, was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2009. The disease is sometimes dubbed “the silent killer” because it rarely has symptoms in the early stages, and indeed Julie had little inkling anything was wrong. But one day she got an email forwarded from one of her three sisters, warning women of the subtle signs of ovarian cancer.
“I didn’t really recognize any of the symptoms in myself, but I’m not really sure how to explain it—I just felt like I needed to go to the doctor,” she says. In retrospect, she can recall feeling something hard in her abdomen area, and occasionally some discomfort bending over, two of the subtle symptoms of the disease.
Julie had only recently had her annual check-up and nothing seemed amiss, but her doctor agreed to do some blood work. An ultrasound follow-up revealed the tumor. After a surgery to remove it, Julie quickly plunged into several months of chemotherapy.
“One of my sisters came from out of town for my first chemo session,” she says.
“She’d make my favorite treat, we’d talk and watch TV during the treatment, and we’d go shopping right afterwards. She helped me make it not such a horrible experience.”
Her sister’s approach was indicative of the overwhelming support Julie received from her family and friends, as well as the colleagues in the county’s risk management department. That outpouring proved crucial in a number of ways, most notably with her then 4-year-old son Jackson, whom Julie and her husband Joe adopted as a baby after their six children were mostly grown.
“I don’t even remember having a small child being a problem during my cancer diagnosis and treatment,” she says. “I guess that’s because I had so much help.”
Now 51 and celebrating the latest round of clean scans, Julie has made a number of lifestyle changes that she hopes will continue to keep her healthy.
“Before I was a sporadic exerciser, but my doctor said the people who tend to stay in remission longest are the ones who exercise,” she says. “So now it’s become a priority, and I do it every day.”
She likes to mix up her workouts to stave off boredom, rotating between Zumba DVDs, yoga, walking her dog, using the elliptical machine and whatever else piques her interest.
A visit to a nutritionist gave her some ideas on how she could improve her diet, too, and she’s seamlessly incorporated some of the suggestions into family meals, like bulking up dishes with extra fruits and veggies.
“After chemo, I needed a plan, something proactive I could do instead of waiting and wondering if or when the cancer would come back,” Julie says.
Taking control of her health has also helped Julie maintain a positive attitude about where she’s been and what the future might hold.
“I try to look at it like, nobody really knows when their life is going to end,” she says. “But I have an advantage. I had a big reminder, and now I can be more appreciative of every day.”